Weekly wine defined: Lees

This week’s wine term is: Lees.

During fermentation, yeast spends two weeks eating the naturally occurring sugars in the grape juice before dying.

After fermentation, the dead yeast cells drop to the bottom of the fermentation vat. The term for those dead yeast cells is Lees.

During normal production of wine, the lees are removed as soon as possible after fermentation so the wine is clear and stabilized.

But there are some wines that are intentionally left sur lie, or “on the lees”. While the vision of dead yeast cells settling on the bottom of a barrel might not sound the most appetizing, it actually can be a very good thing.

Both red and white wines can be left sur lie, but more often than not this is done with whites. The French term “sur lie” (pronounced sur lee) identifies a wine that go through this process that adds flavor and body to a wine.